A question of identity. Who are they? Are they the team that breezed past Dallas, or are they the bumbling fools who dropped a lead that appeared to be insurmountable against the Wiz?
Here’s my take on the Lakers… basically my reasoning why their immediate-future-game could be one of two extremes.
Last season, they’d basically sold out on Phil. There was a lot of lip-service there, but they basically weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing. Ron Artest was in the process of becoming Metta World Peace (at least mentally). Gasol was frustrated, yet not really being the guy he was in 2009/10. Bynum was champing at the bit to be more than he was being allowed to be… and worst of all: Kobe was doing whatever the hell he wanted. And getting pissy at everyone when the Ws didn’t come.
The reality was that this team had basically finished being effective proponents of the triangle… and any change from that was going to be a very, very large change. Which leads to Mike Brown.
Now, on the surface, he looks like he’s failing dismally. Which I don’t think he really is (well, he could try and reign in Kobe a bit, but let’s be realistic: how effective do you think that would be?).
No matter what offense was installed, it was never going to be ‘more effective’ than what had proceeded it. And sticking with what they had wasn’t going to be effective either, as the players had both finished *really* buying into the triangle, and let’s be honest: a lot of the components aren’t what they once were, so the effectiveness it once had wasn’t there (we saw this last season). Move to a more traditional offense. But any shift takes time, and as a unit a lot of the parts simply weren’t up to it. Thus… Sessions. That single purchase, and the moving of Fish to allow Sessions to become all he can be, could be the turning point (slight pun intended) for LA’s season.
This could cop some flack, but I honestly believe that getting Sessions whilst being able to keep Gasol, could be a better deal than had LA managed to get Chris Paul. Simply put, I see Gasol/Sessions > CP3.
Defensively, this team has made strides since the last few seasons. LA’s a better defensive team than they were, and (apparently) that’s largely on Brown.
LA did well with their support staff too. Quin Snyder, Chuck Person, John Kuester and Darvin Ham are a pretty good support. Add Ettore Messina (full time ‘consultant’ ) – he’s supposed to be an offensive wiz.
The defense is there, but the offense is going to take a bit of time – both with regards to continued transition from triangle to traditional, and hopefully getting Kobe to believe. Sessions’ presence should make that easier. I *believe* he will have his best years thus far, in LA. He’s clearly playing with the best players he’s ever played with.
Hiring Brown was a good idea too, long term-wise. Following in Phil Jackson’s footsteps was always going to be a job with some very large shoes to fill. Whilst short-term I believe that Rick Adelman would have been a better choice, I think Brown’s more expendable should the wheels fall off. That’s extremely cynical… but also simply a reality of the world the NBA has become.
Personnel-wise, Kobe is still one of the top 5 players in the game. Gasol is one of the top 3 players at his position. Bynum’s easily the 2nd best center in the league, and in all likelihood LA will never face a team with a better guy at the anchor (no-one seriously believes Dwight Howard‘s Orlando will make the Finals, do they?). Sessions… he at times is going to look like an elite point, even tho’ he may not be. He is going to get lots of single coverage, and when doubles come, then he has outlets in the form of Kobe/Pau/Drew – all of whom are offensive juggernauts. Leave them without coverage and they will wreak ruin and havoc upon your team.
Some could consider the 3 to be the team’s weak point… but really: do LA need another scorer there? Sure, a little more production might be nice, but I am absolutely comfortable with Ron Artest holding fort there. Ron’s always at his best when given a specific defensive assignment, and in the coming weeks/months, there will be plenty of those. It’s when the ‘Metta World Peace‘ turns up I worry. I like Ron. I enjoy having a bit of a junkyard dog on the team… both Ron and Matt Barnes provide a bit of that.
There will be hiccups. There will be games where they lose the map, can’t find the compass and everyone’ll be pointing in a different direction. Welcome to Washington.
So then… there will also be more games like Dallas, where it clicks, works and runs smoothly: and you sit and watch the game and ask ‘where the hell did this come from?’
But I believe that this is a team that as currently constituted, can absolutely contend for a title. Not necessarily as favourites, but how they are regarded has already begun to change. Read Hollinger, read Wojnarowski. Hell, read any of your favourite big-time analyst on the NBA – they all agree that the Lakers should be taken seriously.
It’s simply a matter of whether the Lakers themselves take their chances seriously.